After years of critics predicting that ObamaCare was too cumbersome and intrusive to implement without causing major dislocations for the American economy and workers, that opinion was finally confirmed by what we in the media would, in another context, probably term a highly placed government source: the Obama administration. Yesterday afternoon’s announcement that implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to require businesses with more than 50 employees to offer them health insurance or face crippling fines will be put off for a full year until 2015 rather than being rolled out in January 2014 is the first official signal that even the White House is now aware that ObamaCare is a disaster that can only be managed rather than averted. Though the administration says the rest of the president’s signature health care plan—including the individual mandate to buy insurance and the creation of state insurance exchanges—will still be put into effect on schedule, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that even its supporters are coming to grips with the fact that the law is a mess.
It should be remembered that the original schedule for ObamaCare implementation was wisely crafted with an eye on the president’s reelection. Though passed in 2010, the law was not to be put into effect until after President Obama was safely reelected in 2012, meaning that the devastating impact on employment and on the cost of insurance for many Americans was not an issue last year. Instead, Obama was able to claim that he had merely pushed for a measure that would ensure more people were insured without having to be held accountable for the impact this system had on everyone else. The same political motivation appears to be behind the decision to put off the business mandate since a postponement will make it harder for Republican critics to claim that ObamaCare is sinking the economy and causing layoffs during next year’s midterm elections.
It’s not clear whether that will help many Democrats next year. Nor can we be certain just how effective a campaign focused on stopping ObamaCare will be for the GOP. But we do know that the ObamaCare crackup is inevitable and will be felt throughout the economy once it is in place. What this first official indication of distress tells us is that no delay in implementation will be long enough to avert the looming economic disaster that is ObamaCare.
The excuse we’re hearing from the administration is that the extra year will somehow make it easier for businesses to comply with a system that is so complex that few have much confidence that they can navigate it with assurance. Given the potentially catastrophic penalties that the government can assess against a business that it deems to be not in compliance with the law, it is little surprise that many are contemplating changes that may drastically reduce the number of full-time employees, thus dealing a devastating blow to employment in the name of granting insurance to all.
Rather than this move being, as Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett claimed yesterday, merely an effort to “get this right,” there’s little doubt the decision was based on the idea that postponing implementation will function as a reprieve for Democrats next year. Americans are not likely to fully grasp just how intrusive the law is or how badly it will affect the economy until all parts of it are enforced. But whether that realization comes before the midterms or after them, the day when most Americans understand just how badly this massive expansion of government power will impact their lives is not long in coming. Putting off the moment when the backlash against ObamaCare is truly felt in Washington until after 2014 will not make it any less potent.
This move should encourage Republicans to keep chipping away at the law and to try and stop it via funding cuts or any other measure (such as preventing the Internal Revenue Service from being placed in control of much of the penalties to be assessed) they can try to pass. The assumption on the part of the administration has always been that once this law is functioning it will be too late to repeal it no matter how angry it makes some people. But what yesterday’s announcement tells us is that even the White House is starting to understand that they may have made a drastic miscalculation about how awful the reality of life under ObamaCare will be.